The community of Bahia Ballena is located in the southwest region of Costa Rica, along the pacific coast. The region is considered a paradise for its natural beauty, biological diversity, and indigenous cultures. However, the area, including the community of Bahia Ballena, faces a challenging future, with the possibility of mega-projects such as an international airport, hydro-electric dams, and the rapid increase in the development of African palm plantations – which could change the social, economic and environmental landscape, forever.
More specific to Bahia Ballena are the challenges connected to the conservation of our most important natural resource, the Marino Ballena National Park. This national park was established in 1989 (the first marine national park in Costa Rica), and its area of protection is primarily marine, with 5,385 ocean hectares being protected. With the local economy dependent upon the health of this ecosystem, it is important for the community to learn about marine life and their patterns, solid waste flows from the land base – terrestrial ecosystem – and to empower youth to use technology in a productive way that helps them better understand their community and prepare for the changes forthcoming. To that extent, the GEOPORTER program, with a special emphasis on three projects, has allowed community leaders from the local community government, local water office, boat tour operators association, local nature guide association, community youth (both from public and private schools) to take advantage of a 21st century technology and transform powerful information into action.
GEOPORTER GPS-GIS Projects
Some of the concrete examples of how information transforms into action are:
- Solid Waste “Trash Mapping”: Throughout one (1) year community leaders participated in communal trash cleanups using GPS units to map the collected solid waste. Using the GPS points, community members, with facilitation by GEOPORTER, were able to plot the points on a satellite image of the area. By doing so, the community was able to identify trash “hot spots” – areas of dense trash accumulation – and strategically place bins for community members and visitors to properly dispose of trash.
- Mapping Marine Life in the Marino Ballena National Park: Boat tour operators and guides take visitors out on a daily basis to enjoy the sightings of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, coral reefs and more. The tour operators are the “lifeguards” of the marine life. With the capacity to map sightings of marine life, and other marine resources, community members, visitors, park officials, marine biologists, and non-profits can use the data to develop pro-active policies to better conserve the parks natural resources. Also important, is the use of this information for local business operators in planning safe boating routes that don’t disrupt the natural migration habits of whales, dolphins and sea turtles.
- Equipping Youth with Empowering Technology: In the small coastal village of Bahia Ballena you can observe “tech savvy” youth using cell phones to text message, play games, and make phone calls. With the help of GEOPORTER our community’s youth have been given the opportunity to use geospatial tools to map their community, learn geography, practice geometry and even calculate how fast they can run. By combining fun activities with learning opportunities, the GEOPORTER program has converted our youth into “tech savvy” change agents. The synergy of creative youth growing with geospatial tools will provide our community with an “armed force” of leaders that will have the ability to make informed decisions and more importantly, take actions, that will help secure the future they want to inherit.
In summary, the GEOPORTER program has installed the capacity for community leaders to use geospatial tools for their needs and interests in making change happen. The community is more knowledgeable about geospatial tools and more capable to use the tools while managing the information provided by them. And most importantly, community leaders have the capacity to teach others, thus giving the project long-term sustainability within the community and greater region.
A key element of the GEOPORTER success has been the programs director, Amy Work. With her creativity, dedication, and ability to integrate with community leaders she has gifted the community her passion for geospatial education. I have lived development work for over 8 years since I arrived in Costa Rica, working hand-in-hand with local communities, government, the private sector and NGOs, and have rarely seen a community more empowered than Bahia Ballena as a result of the GEOPORTER program. I wholeheartedly encourage the program’s growth and will continue to give support for its expansion to other communities that are ready to transform information to action.